I have had the pleasure of editing some of Ted’s work this past week, in preparation for our meeting Wednesday evening. Ted is a writer that I truly admire, and one of his best attributes, is his ability to say so much with so few words. It puts me in mind of Willa Cather, or Ernest Hemingway, two great American authors. As you can probably tell, minimisation of useless words is not a skill that I do well and is thus something that I aspire to. It is also something I attempt to remedy during the editing process.

Strunk & White in “The Elements of Style,” have this to say on the subject of omitting needless words:

“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short, or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”

What if I were to rewrite the first paragraph of this post, to better represent “concise” writing, as described above?

have had the pleasure of editing some of Ted’s work this past week, in preparation for our meeting Wednesday evening. Ted is a writer that I truly admire, and one of his best attributes, is [especially] his ability to say so much with so few words. It puts me in mind of [, much like] Willa Cather, or Ernest Hemingway, two great American authors. As you can probably tell, m[M]inimisation of useless words is not a skill that I do well [have] and is thus something [but one] that I aspire to. It is also something I [and] attempt to remedy during the editing process.

What do you think? Is the second attempt better? Probably yes. Is the writing more clear and concise? Definitely yes. But, and here is the real question, is it more enjoyable to read? In this case the answer is probably yes. But what about the idea of style? I am not a master at my craft, so it stands to reason that these types of rules will more likely than not, play a role in making my story easier to understand and more enjoyable to read. But what about those writers who are unequivocally masters.

What about those like John Steinbeck? Take this excerpt from “East of Eden:”

Adam looked out of his covered brain–out the long tunnels of his eyes–at the people of this world. His father, a one-legged natural force at first, installed justly to make little boys feel littler and stupid boys aware of their stupidity; and then–after god had crashed–he saw his father as the policeman laid on by birth, the officer who might be circumvented, or fooled, but never challenged. And out of the long tunnels of his eyes Adam saw his half-brother Charles as a bright being of another species, gifted with muscle and bone, speed and alertness, quite on a difference plane, to be admired as one admires the sleek lazy danger of a black leopard, not by any chance to be compared with one’s self. And it would no more have occurred to Adam to confide in his brother–to tell him the hunger, the gray dreams, the plans and the silent pleasures that lay at the back of the tunneled eyes–than to share his thoughts with a lovely tree or a pheasant in flight. Adam was glad of Charles the way a woman is glad of a fat diamond, and he depended on his brother in the way that same woman depends on the diamond’s glitter and the self security tied up in its worth; but love, affection, empathy, were beyond conception.

Now, what if we took out the extraneous words here? What would the story lose? What about the rhythm of the words? The flow? The sense that we get of the characters because of the perhaps “unnecessary” language?

Perhaps something to think about for our own writing.



On Writing

Stephen King says,

“You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair–the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.”

Take it seriously or do something else.


Focusing The Mind

mindfulnessI promised an update on my progress during the eight week course I began now four weeks ago.

I’ve completed twenty-four 30-45 minute meditations of various types – body awareness, sitting awareness, yoga.

Can I see a change, some benefit from it? I suppose I have to admit that I want to see a  benefit, so allowance has to be made for that, but still I really do believe I am more relaxed, calmer, and possibly more focused. Perhaps even that is enough to have made it worthwhile? Besides, I look forward to my practice!

Much compelling, fascinating and inspiring scientific evidence about the significant benefits of the practice of mindfulness is delivered with the course, such that I’m committed to making it part of my routine. And I’ve learned that these benefits can touch every aspect of our lives.

With another four weeks to go it will be interesting to see wht further progress I can make.

I’ll provide my final assessment at the end of week eight


Free eBook Version of Rogets Thesaurus

9781904048640largeI’ve downloaded the EPUB version of what I have found to be the world’s greatest resource of English words and phrases. You can get your copy here, where you’ll find a number of different versions.
I have it on my iPad, and although I do have the original print version, I find this more convenient, though I would never get rid of the hard copy, there’s nothing like it.
There’s  a search function on the eBook, which is really fast and there’s just no contest with regard to convenience when I compare the bulk and weight of the book which is 5cm thick and probably weighs a kg, against my lovely slim and lightweight iPad! Isn’t it wonderful that we writers have available to us such comprehensive resources?
I give thanks to those who have provided. Hazel

Orwell’s rules for good prose

A J recommended an app for editing. See: http://hemingwayapp.com/ . It seems to work by identifying parts of the text that offend against the generally accepted rules for writing clear prose. When I can get a desk-top version I’ll give it a go.

I believe these rules are expressed succinctly by George Orwell:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
I try to abide by them but as you will remind me, I often fail to comply. 

Could rejection by publishers be good news?

imagesIn past years the answer to that would have been a resounding NO of course. But things are different these days. Very different.
Take a look here

I spent hours reading the data and then the replies to this article, and it seems as if the real drama is yet to come as publishers try to defend their position. I do think this is essential reading for anyone who wants to make a living from their writing.
Plus it’s great entertainment!
No doubt someone will eventually write a book about it.
Postscript: I’ve just read a response from Mike Shatzkin who says this at the end of his article:
‘Self-publishing is definitely an incredible boon to commercial writers and they should all understand how it works. Increasingly, literary agencies see it as their job to provide that knowledge:

  • It is almost certainly a good idea to self-publish for many writers who have reclaimed a backlist that has consumer equity.
  • It is a perfectly sensible way to launch a career, either before going after the commercial establishment or as a part of the strategy to engage with them. (Editors in the big houses are well aware of the self-publishing successes; it’s a new farm system.)
  • If an author has access to markets, it can be a better way to get short or very timely material to them faster.

But to say it has its advantages and applications is a far cry from saying that it is a preferable path for a large number of authors who could get publishing deals.’